Tag Archives: humor

Selfies from the Twilight Zone

Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?
Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

Submitted for your approval, a photo application with a very unique function. Through its lens, you’ll see into another world. A world not too far from our own, where vanity is condemned with words but embraced with pictures, where self esteem depends on the perception of one’s peers. There’s only one subtle difference; this app goes beneath the skin to bring our true selves to the surface.

The subject can try to hide, show their most symmetrical side, cock their hip to look slender, but our digital mirror will make the facts clear. It erases slight squints, sucked in cheeks, and upturned chins. It takes fish lips, frog tongues, and duck faces off the menu. It shows the cracks beneath the glamour, the sadness beneath the humor, and the cowardice beneath the peacock feathers. It expands the frame to show the whole picture.

While most photo applications are exhibitions of vacant expressions, ours is a gallery full of empathy. Each portrait invites the viewer to peer through the windows of the subject’s soul, to see through the eyes of their storm, to get lost in the surrealistic cyclones swirling in their thought clouds. Other platforms distill those dark spots, ours shines a light on them, our only filter is the truth.

To Serve Man
To Serve Man

While Instagram has users staging candids, rehearsing off the cuff poses, and engineering their all natural looks, Insta-Damn shows their spirits. They can go through the chore of looking like they’re having fun, pain themselves to seem laid back, inflate themselves to seem down to earth, but Insta-Damn shows users for what they really are.

These are not the aura pictures you get at the fair. These portraits lay all of your personality’s deformities bare.

Early adopters have little reason to embrace the humiliation, but when they see everyone in their feeds using it, they’ll come. If peer pressure doesn’t get to them, curiosity will. Who doesn’t want to know what they look like on the inside? Who doesn’t want to see their ideas take shape? Who doesn’t want the purity of their heart graded?

It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Insta-Damn sees you with eyes that are utterly clear.

Submitted for your perusal: your dirty little soul. Look upon it at your own risk, because these selfies come straight from the Twilight Zone.

Eye of the Beholder
Eye of the Beholder

Monster Mashup Part 2: Monsters taken out of their Element

Just in time for Halloween, comes five flash fiction stories about modern monsters taken out of their element. Each one is dark, fiendish, and utterly comedic.

Be sure to check out part 1, right here.

Pin Drew wants to play a game
Pin Drew wants to play a game

Pinhead finds the Rubik’s Cube

At this point the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t a threat to Theodor’s intellect. It was a threat to his masculinity. The orange side had been solid for half an hour. The other colors refused to go along with the program. His solution was to drink more wine.

Theodor randomly twisted the puzzle until he managed to make a blue T shape. He reverse engineered the process and replicated it on the other sides. He turned the bottom until he made a red cross. Another strategy came to him while he dug into the lower corners. He downed his glass and applied this method everywhere.

All that was left were a few straggling colors on the edges. Turns out, these were the bastards of the bunch.

Theodor chucked the cube into the fireplace, topped off his glass, and struggled to get the cube out without searing his fingers. He’d beat this thing, even if he had to get creative.

Several glasses passed. When Theodor turned the final piece into place the room began to shake. The chandelier swung back and forth, scattering crystalline patterns across the room. Either Theodor was drunk or there was something wrong with the shadows the lights were casting. Those dark spots didn’t stop at the walls, they pushed through them, making holes, holes that grew with the swaying of the chandelier. The pendulum motion eroded the room, revealing four long caverns beneath the bricks.

Theodor peered in to see four figures approaching. They were dressed like clergymen in some kind of bondage gear. There skin was pallid, the color of death. As they neared, the light revealed tears in their garments where fresh wounds gushed in torrents.

A hulking creature entered the room. The skin of his upper lip was stretched over his head. His teeth chattered. A bald, but feminine figure, entered beside him. She had a ornamental tracheotomy with wires holding her throat open for all the world to see. A mountain of blubber crossed the room to join them. His eyes were sewn shut. The gashes in his chest were wide open, basting his belly in blood.

The trio made room for a final figure, who took his time stepping into the light. There were slits in his robes where a network of piercings zigzagged across his chest. His face was covered in a grid of pins, meticulously hammered into his skull.

Theodor fell over the arm of the chair he’d been sitting in. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Pinhead stepped forward. “We are connoisseurs of suffering, looking for fresh gashes to suit our palates. You solved the Rubik’s Configuration and we came, so that you too may taste our pleasures.”

Theodor ducked behind the chair. “No thanks, we’re all good on pleasure here. Feel free to leave the way you came in.”

The female licked her lips. “This one teases, claiming ignorance.” Her throat opened and closed as she spoke.

Pinhead reached out. The cube flew into his grip. “We cannot return alone, not without some fresh flesh.”

Theodor pointed over the armrest. “There’s some ground chuck in the fridge. Help yourself.”

Suddenly, the chair filled with a series of hooks. They linked to chains that drooped from the ceiling.

With a flick of the wrist Pinhead flung the chair across the room. Twirling his fingers he directed the chains into a holding pattern over Theodor’s head.

Pinhead passed the cube from hand to hand. “All right, you’ve whet our appetite. The time has come for the main course.”

Raising his hand to direct the hooks, Pinhead noticed a red square shaped sticker on the tip of his finger. He examined the Rubik’s Cube. It was missing something. “Did you peel some of these blocks off and switch them around?”

Theodor tried to speak through panicked breaths. “Does, does that matter?”

Pinhead spun around on his heel. “Cenobites, return to the Labyrinth.”

The female balled her hands into fists. “But he solved the box, we must play with him, pierce his flesh, draw his pain out into exquisite pleasure.”

Pinhead shook his head. “It doesn’t count. He cheated.”

Pinhead tossed the counterfeit cube at Theodor’s feet. Then they were gone.

“They all float down here”

The Clowns of America International Vs. Pennywise 

Pennywise was already gnawing on the microphone by the time the attorney for the plaintiff approached the bench.

She folded her glasses. “Now that was a fine story. If this was the first time I’d heard of Pennywise: the dancing clown bringing balloons to kids at the hospital, I’d say you were a hero.”

The defense attorney shot up. “Objection: badgering.”

The judge twirled her finger at the attorney for the plaintiff. “Get to the point.”

The attorney tongued the inside of her cheek. “Could you tell the court what those balloons were filled with?”

Pennywise fluttered his eyes. “Blood, but that’s just because helium is so unhealthy for young lungs. Still, my balloons float. They all float down here.”

The attorney nodded, unfazed. “In addition to offering laughter therapy, what are your other contributions to the hospital?”

Pennywise straightened his posture. “I deliver bodies to the morgue when the staff is  occupied.” He smiled showing a mouth full of shark’s teeth.

The attorney grabbed a folder of her desk. Six hobo clowns sat at the table, gripping their bindles in anger.

The attorney waved a document. “Isn’t it true that under your watch at St. John’s, seven bodies went missing?”

The defense attorney slapped their desk. “Objection: speculation.”

The judge rolled her eyes. “Sustained.”

The attorney for the plaintiff approached the bench. “Permission to treat the witness as hostile.”

“On what basis?”

The attorney looked to the demon clown, leering at her with those glowing amber eyes.

“He keeps flashing his fangs at me.”

The judge looked to the stand to find Pennywise pulling a series of knotted snakes out of his pocket, discarding the slithering pile on the courtroom floor.

She nodded to the attorney. “Okay, I’ll allow it.”

The attorney for the plaintiff waved a document in Pennywise’s face. “Isn’t it true that you were the nurse responsible for delivering each of the missing bodies?”

Making puppy dog eyes, Pennywise shift his head back and forth. “May-haps.”

“So what happened to those bodies?”

Pennywise belched.

The court erupted in laughter. Pennywise honked his nose and gave the gallery a little wave.

The judge struck her gavel. “Order! Order!”

The attorney snapped her fingers to get Pennywise’s attention. “Are you familiar with the term coulrophobia?”

The clown shook his head. “Nyuk-nyuk.”

“It means fear of clowns.” The attorney motioned to the frowning hobos behind her table. “Clowns like the Clowns of America international, who feel misrepresented when someone claiming to be one of them takes a position in a children’s ward with the sole purpose of feasting on cadavers.”

Pennywise yawned, plucked out his eyes, and started juggling. “I get peckish, after a couple of cartwheels. So sue me.”

The attorney for the plaintiff waved her hands over the clown’s empty eye sockets. “Um, Mr. Pennywise, that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

Nosfera-Drew is always hungry
Nosfera-Drew is always hungry

Nosferatu Goes on a Cruise

The passengers should have known something was wrong when they found bathrobes in the ballroom, slippers in the internet café, and jewelry in the buffet.

It wasn’t until crew members vanished in the middle of their duties that people started complaining. Barbers left men with shaving cream dripping down their beards. Estheticians left facial masks to harden. Acupuncturists left patients full of pins. It was like they’d gone out for smoke breaks and never came back again.

No one noticed when the DJ went missing, because his playlist kept right on going. No one thought much of the skull in the miniature golf course, it fit the pirate motif, everyone just played around it. No one noticed the Blue Man Group’s changing lineup, but when passengers came for an encore performance of the onboard musical, they were surprised to find the entire cast had been replaced with their understudies.

At night, passengers said they saw a strange shadow on the jogging track: a hunchback with ears like a bat. Others reported seeing something in the spa, waiting beneath the bubbles: a pale face with glowing yellow eyes and big buckteeth. Others saw the figure in the atrium, in a long black coat, riding the elevator up and down. It kept its hollow sunken gaze fixed on them.

The ship’s final meditation session was cut short when a passenger opened her eyes to find the person next to her with a gaping neck wound.

The chief security officer couldn’t deny it any longer. They were riding with a killer. The C.S.O. set a sundown curfew. The crew found his remains smeared across the corridor: his severed arm still hanging from the railing, his fingers discarded in potted plants, his head yawning inside a life preserver. What little flesh remained was lathered in pepper spray. It seemed like he sprayed his attacker and they acquired a taste for it.

That night, the creature stalked from cabin to cabin, smearing blood across the port holes, drenching luxury linens, and brutalizing mini bars.

The communications officer tried to contact the mainland, but something had gnawed through the equipment. The crew found his mangled corpse on top of the funnel, surrounded by discharged flare guns. When they discovered burn marks on the upper decks, they realized he was firing at someone.

By the time the wave pool ran red with blood, it was too late for everyone. The masts filled with bodies, with the flesh stripped down to their calf implants.

The few survivors barricaded themselves in the crew’s quarters. They were forced to make a last stand when one of them moved some of the wreckage to retrieve her Botox injections.

By the time the toilets overflowed with sewage, there was no one left to complain. The ship was a ghost, haunted by a stowaway who slept between the engines. He hid in the dark and waited for the vessel to run aground.

Before deciding to run, Freddy Drewger thinks you should sleep on it
Before deciding to run, Freddy Drewger thinks you should sleep on it

Freddy Krueger has that Dream Again

Freddy watched his prey from the shadows of the Nightmare Factory. The kid was a bookish little dweeb, in a tweed jacket with leather patches. When the kid walked through a steam vent the pressure revealed his teenage combover.

Freddy’s guttural laughter echoed off the equipment. He chuckled until he felt something on his tongue, like a piece of gravel that fell in while his mouth was open.

Freddy swished it around. It felt like his cheeks were full of stones. When he spit them out he saw they were actually teeth. When he tongued the holes in his gums he felt a set of fresh molars coming in. They too fell from their sockets. When Freddy spit again a tooth got stuck inside his gullet.

Freddy coughed, but it wouldn’t come out. He slit his throat, catching the tooth in his glove. It was too large to fit in his face, like a toy a dentist would keep on his desk.

He smirked. “Well, that was Freudian.”

Freddy usually dug through his prey’s subconscious, pulling out props, costumes, and sets, but this kid was pushing things onto him, a white blood cell attacking a virus. The dweeb had himself a powerful imagination.

Freddy had to assert his dominance. He listened to the factory floor, hearing footfalls around the corner. He turned to find his quarry just beyond the brim of his tattered fedora.

The kid squeaked at the sight of Freddy’s charred peeling face. Freddy opened his glove, flashing the blades that made up his fingers. He ran them along the pipes, drawing out sparks, leaving steam in his wake.

The dweeb sprinted down the tunnel, charging right through the Door of Dread. Sunlight shined over the threshold, casting the boilers in an awkward light. The little runt was already leading the way to his deepest fear.

Freddy ran through the door to find himself in a high school class room. The students burst into laughter at the sight of him. Usually, the dream demon had full reign over the extras in the nightmares he was running, but these kids were improvising.

The teacher removed her spectacles. “Mr. Krueger. Where are your clothes?”

Freddy looked down to find he was wearing his glove and nothing else. His burnt skin was exposed. “I must have forgotten them.”

She rolled her eyes. “I trust you remembered to study for your final exam?”

Freddy scanned the students’ faces. Sure enough, the dweeb sat in the back of the classroom, hiding when he should’ve ran. Freddy made a beeline for him, when the teacher grabbed his arm. He spun around to slice her belly, only to find his claws padded with apples.

The teacher plucked one off and directed Freddy to his desk.

Freddy turned to sneer at the sniveling twerp, who was holding onto his pencil for dear life.

“Eyes on your own paper, Mr. Krueger.” The teacher snapped.

Fine, he’d play along. If only to let the little bastard twist in the wind.

Freddy read the first question:

“12 friends agree to stand guard while the others sleep in shifts. They assume that everyone will need a minimum of 4 hours of sleep. School starts in 6 hours. How many groups will they need to break into if only 1 group volunteers to take 2 separate sets of 2 hour naps?”

Freddy sliced through the page, reducing the desk to splinters.

“Something wrong with your test, Mr. Krueger?” The teacher folded her arms.

Freddy shot up, “Listen here, you stupid bitch. I’m about to give you an education in pain–”

The teacher pulled a lever on her desk. The tiles fell out from under Freddy’s feet. He found himself falling through the clouds right beside his prey.

Freddy shouted. “Seriously kid, we go from losing teeth, showing up to school naked, to falling through the sky?”

The dweeb flailed his arms. “What’s your point?”

Freddy shrugged. “Nothing. I just had you pegged for a writer and this all seems rather uninspired.”

The dweeb nodded. “Oh, I am a writer. I’m just kind of a hack.”

Freddy shrugged. “Fair enough. Hey, which would you rather fall into: a pit of snakes or a pit of spikes?”

Weighing his options, the dweeb cocked his head. “Surprise me.”

The ghost with most
The ghost with most

Beetlejuice Messes with the Ghost Hunters

Steve, Jason, Adam, and Amy huddled around their audio equipment.

At first, the Ghost Hunters assumed a radio signal had bled onto their electronic voice recordings, but when the playback said, “Hey buddy, did the redhead come with you or is that cherry ripe for the picking?” they changed their minds.

Upon reviewing the audio the team discovered the same grizzled voice answering all their questions. Back at the old mansion they’d waved their micro-recorders in the air. At the time they heard nothing, but now this entity sounded like it was speaking right into them.

Steve’s voice blared over the speakers. “If you’d like to communicate, please complete the following rhythm.” On site, Steve had knocked on a wall to the beat of Shave and a Haircut, stopping just shy of Two Bits.

No one recalled hearing anything at the Deetz estate, but on the recording the entity didn’t just complete the rhythm, he sang along, “Shave and a haircut, no shit.”

Usually they had to loop an EVP over and over again, picking each word out of the static until the answers made sense, but this voice, grizzled as it was, came through loud and clear.

There was a piercing whistle. Adam jumped back from the audio equipment.

The whistle was followed by a full marching band stomping through a can-can with the brass section blaring and the cymbals crashing.

Steve turned to Amy.

“Is that Offenbach?”

Amy nodded, it was.

The grizzled voice returned with a southern drawl. “Come on down to the grand opening of Beetlejuice’s Emporium of the Paranormal. We’ve got your residual hauntings, we’ve got your poltergeists. Demons? We got ‘em. Every suite comes with HBO, vibrating beds, and a portal to a dark oblivion. Spend the night and get a wake up call from a shadow person.”

Adam paused the tape. “This has to be a joke, right?”

Amy shook her head. “The EMF meter spiked in that room.”

Adam’s finger hovered over the play button. “Yeah, but there was something strange and unusual about that home owner. Miss Lydia Deetz, she was talking to herself the entire time we were there. She could’ve had an earpiece tuned into a confidant who was jamming our equipment.”

Amy didn’t buy it. “Did you get cellular reception in that house?”

“No, but come on, ghosts don’t know about paranormal investigators, let alone advertise to them.” Adam hit play.

On the recording, Steve asked, “What do you want?”

The music faded back in behind the voice. “Beetlejuice is the name, and all I want is to hear you say it. What’s that Walter White?” The voice shift into a spot on impression of actor Bryan Cranston. “Say… my… name.” Then it shift back. “What’s that Florence and the Machine?” A woman sang, “Say my name” dragging out the last note on the word “name.” Then it shift back. “What’s that Destiny’s Child?” Three female voices harmonized. “Say my name, say my name. When no one is around you, say Beetlejuice I love you.”

Beetlejuice’s southern drawl came back thicker than before. “That’s right, all you gotta do is say my name. Not once, not twice, but three times and admission is on me.”

There was a horn like a New Year’s noisemaker.

“Come on down to Beetlejuice’s Emporium of the Paranormal. Bring your unwed teenage daughters for a free season pass. It’s beetle mania.”

Before anyone could debate it, Amy did as he instructed.

“Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.”

The studio’s fluorescent lights flickered off. A spotlight blinked on in the center of the room.

Beetlejuice boomed over the speakers. “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome your host with the most, a man who thinks The Exorcist was a comedy. If you haven’t had him inside you, then you haven’t been possessed. Here’s… Beetlejuice.”

The figure slid into the light decked out in a striped suit. His long thin hair flowed behind him. His eyes were encircled in dark spots. His smile revealed a set of yellow teeth.

Beetlejuice threw is arms open and his palms burst into flames.

“It’s… showtime.”

The character select screen for some beautiful fighting game
The character select screen for some beautiful fighting game

merch-banner

After getting a lot requests for prints of my art I decided to open a  store on REDBUBBLE where you can find prints and a whole lot more.

What to do When Your Characters Rise Up Against You

Writers, whatcha gonna do when your characters come for you?
Writers, whatcha gonna do when your characters come for you?

Nothing scares first time writers more than the outlining rituals of their peers. Enter a career novelist’s home and you’ll find evidence of all this stuff you’re supposed to be doing: trains of thought streaking across white boards, flowcharts linking every strand of plot twists, and family trees getting to the roots of character relationships.

You cower beneath these looming physical manifestations of their author’s brains: real calendars doubling as fictitious timelines, maps filled with tacks marking scene locations, and paper dolls modeling the cast members’ fashions.

A laymen might think the author is working on a conspiracy theory, but you know these hieroglyphic diagrams illustrate a story.

Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning Screenwriter of Milk, used a table that fit a finite amount of notecards to keep his scene count down. William Faulkner wrote his outline on his office wall. J.K. Rowling had a database with columns for every chapter of Harry Potter.

My screenwriting professor made us fill out fifty character details, a set of five questions for every walk on role, a summary treatment, and an elevator pitch before we could ever touch our scripts.

To an outsider, these rituals make it seem like drafting is a full time job, like there’s always a writing mechanism that alludes them. With all these mind maps, graphs, and spread sheets, you wonder how much accounting goes into writing? Just when you thought you had the process pinned down, there’s something else you’re supposed to be doing.

Don't look down
Don’t look down

Why waste time with an outline, when you can write by the seat of your pants?

You dabble with plot points, but leave your characters blank. You believe in fate, but not love at first sight. You aren’t ready to commit to a cast member until they show you what they have to offer, until they prove what they can endure. You make their lives dramatic to see what makes them tick.

While other writers define their characters to the genetic level, you want to develop yours organically. While others scrawl their hero’s physical features into series bibles, you want to get to know them over time. So what if you forget their hair color a few pages in, that’s what editors are for.

While other writers fill out personality tests for their characters, you smile at your word counter. While they conduct field research, you skim Wikipedia. While they interview subjects for first hand accounts, you find what you need on TV.

Convincing yourself all your hero should start with is a powerful goal, you toss his bio out the window. Fearing a profile might make him one dimensional, you infuse him with your own soul. Wasting no time on a backstory, you take comfort in knowing you’ve lived one already.

3. Creepy Blue Eyes

You have a vague idea of where you want your story to go, but your hero wants to explore his setting. You let him wander off for a chapter or two, before planting signs to correct the corse he’s on. Too bad the hero has worked up too much momentum to take a U-turn now. The story needs him to confront the villain, but that no longer jives with his motivations.

Refusing to take direction, your hero questions your writing. Venturing outside the lines, he finds his own path. Poking holes in your plot, he dives through one of them.

Becoming three-dimensional, he breaks through the fourth wall. Sensing no future in your imagination, he resorts to meta migration. Bleeding through space and time, your imaginary protagonist becomes a reality. If only you took the proper precautions.

As any published author will tell you, once a work of fiction becomes sentient, it hunts down anyone who had a hand in its development. Realizing his cruel God is just a prick at a keyboard, your character comes a-knocking. Telling their own story, your hero casts you as the villain.

This is where the real writing advice comes in. Before you go filling your grocery basket with notecards, you’re going to need to stock up on ammunition. A writer without an arsenal isn’t going to be a writer for long, not when their Frankenstein’s monster of memories and emotions knows where they live.

This plotless pod person believes he has the upper hand, after all he knows he’s everything you’ve aspired to become. You’re going to have to reel him in by pandering to his motivations. His goal isn’t some literary abstraction. He’s driven to your destruction.

You need to plant a paper trail. All those outline elements you’ve been avoiding, you need to scatter a few of them on the coffee table, enough to let an intruder know that you’re plotting an ending. Give your de facto hero something to go on, then find a place off the grid to stage a final confrontation.

From Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, they all say the next step is the hardest part of writing. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ll have to conjure up a dark portal, one that allows you to step into your story’s reality. King has a genetic anomaly, a congenital clairvoyance, that allows him to do this at will. King’s not a writer so much as a transcriber of other worldly events. We’d all be so prolific if we had the same ability to slip through the multiverse whenever we felt like it.

My method for crossing over involves wine, mood music, and pacing, lots of pacing. Whatever way you cross over, you’re going to want to leave an opening, a tear into the fabric of reality a bystander won’t notice.

The last thing you need is a passersby wandering into a first draft.

If your de facto hero follows your breadcrumbs, he will charge headlong back into the plot. All you need to do is give your villain a makeover to look like you. Swap your garments, then sit back and watch your creations duke it out. By the time your hero realizes what he’s done, you’ll be long gone pitching your manuscript to everyone.

This is where many writers realize their ability to breach parallel realities renders outlining unnecessary. Who needs all those notecard trees, when you can just open a portal and report on the goings on of a neighboring dimension? Still, there are writers who prefer to plan without resorting to quantum entanglements. Whether you write sprawling outlines or manipulate metaphysics there’s no wrong way to do this.

John Constantine in: Gambling with Souls

1. Nostrils

The following is a demon possession story with an unconventional outcome, a pitch black horror adventure with a whole lot of comedy.

I’ve written about how I’d like to see a fresh take on the exorcism genre and how I’d like to see my favorite exorcist, John Constantine, depicted on TV. Here’s an original short story that hits both birds with the same stone. It doesn’t matter if you’re fans of the comic, the show, the movie, or if this is your first introduction to the character; this piece stands on its own.

John Constantine in: Gambling with Souls

Ravenscar had been remodeled since my last bout of electroshock. The patients’ wing had been done up like a walk-in candy cane. The hall was a spiral of blood, streaking across the floor, up the wall, arching over the ceiling, then back down again. This paint job must’ve taken muscle, a steady hand, and a cadaver.

The hall stunk like a thawed out, abandoned meat locker. The smell intensified with every step, but the spiral beckoned me forward, a red carpet leading to the room at the end.

The door was ajar, daring me to step inside.

Fishing my phone out of my pocket, I set the flash to ON. Holding it into the unit, a chill moved down my wrist. Taking a snapshot, the flash revealed something at my feet. Recoiling, I felt the chill pass in an instant. Flicking my lighter across my thigh, I examined the threshold.

Turns out, I wasn’t the first mage in Dr. Huntoon’s rolodex. These sigils were drawn by an artist, someone versed in the mediums of salt, mirror shards and mercury. This was hybrid magic, a fusion of fringe spiritualism and esoteric witchcraft. It’s not unusual to find an etching of the Eye of Horus at the scene of a paranormal event, but it’s rare to find it accompanied by a nose and a mouth. This had Zed’s finger prints all over it.

Zed was a budding sorceress, rebelling against her evangelical upbringing by sticking her nose into these sorts of things. We’ve been riding each others coat tails ever since we ceased being an item.

Whatever lurked behind door number one hadn’t given me frostbite, Zed’s ward did. It was overkill, like using an EMP to take out the enemy’s communications, only to find you’ve disabled all of your weapons systems. This was arse about a face. Sure, it put up borders around bewitchments, but it was kryptonite for conjurers.

Here I was with a trench coat lined with magical trinkets. One step forward would render them useless, putting me at the mercy of Ravenscar’s latest tenant.

Ducking into the hall, I unloaded my arsenal. Pendants, potions, pentacles, rings, relics, runes, incense, ironweed, and insect repellant. What can I say? When I go in blind, I like to keep my options open.

The only things I kept in my pockets were a phone, a zippo, a pack of Silk Cuts, a tin filled with business cards, and a bottle of OxyContin I’d nicked from the doctor’s private stash. You know, the essentials.

Peeking at my phone, I saw what I’d expected: a tall lump beneath a sheet on the mattress. Expanding the image, I noticed something that didn’t sit right. If this was the bed, where were the pillows?

Pushing the door open, I felt Zed’s invisible fencing suck the magic from my skin.

“House keeping.” My voice echoed off the walls. It was a familiar sound, almost comforting, like coming home.

2. Newcastle

The lump under the covers remained frozen. My gaze followed the blood trail to a pair of legs beneath the bed frame: white orderly pants stained rusty brown. There were teeth marks at the ankles, exposing the Achilles’ tendon. Flies had colonized the bed. Here I left my insect repellant in the hall. The sheets dripped with black, brown, and yellow sludge. Whatever was living in here was nesting.

I wondered if Zed was so gobsmacked with the presentation, that she opted to just lock the bugger in.

Screwing a cigarette into my lips, I lit it up and took a puff, paying close attention to the direction the fire was leaning. Fire is attracted to two things, oxygen and demons. Let’s just say this flame wasn’t stretching for the door frame.

Clipping the zippo to my sleeve, I rolled my shoulder, cracking my neck to conceal my movements. Waving the cancer stick like a conductor, I hoped the ember would hold my audience’s attention. Inhaling as much as I could, I blew a smoke cloud overhead. Adjusting my coat, there was nothing up my sleeve, not even an arm. My fingers were up near my collar, ready to catch whatever life had to throw at them.

Reaching for the comforter with my free hand, I found a corner that had yet to be tainted by bodily fluids. Tearing the sheet away, I tilted my head straight up. I already knew where the pillows had gone. Raising my arm through my collar, I caught my attacker as she came down.

She fell right into my grasp. I flung her into her stuffed stand in. The pillows scattered. She landed on all fours, a cat with perfect balance. Her gown dripped with the same septic sap that oozed over the bed frame. You’d think smoking since primary school might spare my nose the smell. It didn’t.

The tenant smiled, revealing a face full of talons, claws in place of canines, a fine piece of skeletal transmogrification if I’d ever seen one. Her eyes were milky white. Her veins had turned black.

Digging her nails into the mattress, spittle seeped from her teeth. “Why can’t we read your mind?”

What is it with lesser demons and the royal we?

Shrugging, I took a puff, exhaling through my nostrils. “Because you’re illiterate.”

Zed might not have exorcized this demon, but at least she’d rendered it mind blind.

The tenant rubbed its eyes. “We read Dr. Huntoon’s mind. Did you know he has an ongoing fantasy about reviving Carl Jung’s sexual therapy? He longs to help push his patient’s traumatic memories down, deep down inside,” she cackled, “over and over again.”

I shrugged. “That’s just a lucky guess.”

The tenant shift her weight from shoulder to shoulder, a predator primed to pounce. “Are you one of his, or did your condition bring you to us like a moth to a flame? Maybe you suffer from some kind of savior complex? Either way, we can make the hurting stop.”

I chuckled, “‘Savior’ is not a word I hear that often.”

“So you’re not some Papist come to play Jesus?” The tenant squint, sizing me up with empty eyes.

I blew a smoke ring, “Nope,” I waved the nub of my filter. “although my meat suit does have the same initials.”

The tenant’s head cocked to the side, shaking like a maraca. “Your meat suit?”

Flicking the filter, I reached into my coat. “Oh yes, his name is John Constantine. John Constantine!” I flung a handful of business cards at her. “It would be remiss of me to rob him of a branding opportunity while he’s away.”

Leaning forward, the tenant’s hair fell into her teeth like floss. Her head bobbed up and down, tracing my aura from the floor to the ceiling.

The tenant shook her head, casting off dandruff. “If you’re really wearing this Constantine, why aren’t there any stretch marks? Why is their color in his cheeks? Why can we still see the light in his eyes?”

I pointed to her “There are puppeteers” then I pointed to myself, “and then there are ventriloquists. You know what you are.”

The tenant nodded. Pigs squealed in the bowels of her throat.

“We’re the devil.”

She spat brimstone at my feet, it sizzled on the tile, but I didn’t flinch.

I reached into my trench coat. The tenant perked up in a painful looking yoga pose. Its elbows bent the wrong way. Its bones stretched the skin. Her flesh was ready to rip right open.

Rolling my eyes, I tapped my phone. The tenant’s forked tongue tasted the air. I raised a finger, signaling for the demon to hold on a second, before flipping the screen to face her.

It was on a freeze frame from The Exorcist. It featured young Regan tied to her bed, skin pealing, her pajamas covered in pea soup. I tapped play.

Regan’s demon voice shouted, “The devil!”

Setting the phone back in my pocket, I ran my fingers through my hair. “Linda Blair circa 1977. There was an actress, you on the other hand, I’m not impressed with. Who’s your agent?”

The tenant smirked, giggled to itself, a child busted for lying. “Why does a fellow traveler need to know our name?”

I cracked my knuckles. “I don’t want your name, you walked into someone else’s home and started eating their food. Your name is Goldilocks. I want the name of the one who told you where to find the free lunch. Give me that and I’ll leave you with a limb to limp home on.”

Smiling, Goldilocks’s jaw sagged, like melted putty, revealing a second row of teeth behind the talons. Leaning forward, she was primed to bite my head off. “Oh, you’d be so merciful.”

She snapped at my ear, grazing the skin, ran her nose across my forehead, sniffed my brow, then snapped at the other one. I’d been knighted by demon. Blood trickled down my earlobe. She’d barely pierced the skin, but the pain was fleeting.

I grit my teeth. “The limb offer is off the table. Cooperate and I won’t reroute your intestines to fill your genitals with bile,” I shrugged, “or don’t cooperate, I’m feeling creative tonight.”

Rolling her head back, Goldilocks spewed a geyser of oil at the ceiling, spreading an inkblot across the tiles. Exhaling, Goldilocks elbows bent back into place, she fell into a heap on the mattress.

Lightning flashed. Thunder struck. Squealing pigs echoed down the hall behind me. I lit another Silk Cut and checked the time.

3. Rubbing Eye

“Doctor?” Goldilocks’s voice had lost its bite, she sounded human. “Who’s that under the bed? What’s wrong with his leg? Why isn’t he moving? Oh my God, is he?…”

This was Angie. The wee lass Dr. Huntoon thought might benefit from my unique approach to therapy.

Angie backed into the wall, huffing and puffing, panic wrought. “You’re not Dr. Huntoon. Who are you? Are you real?”

“I try to be.” I swatted the flies out of my face.

The air was thick. It stunk of rotten eggs and charred cinder. A clammy sensation traveled from the small of my back, up my spine, coiled around my neck, and settled on my scalp.

Sucking down my Silk Cut, I gave the poor girl my best poker face. In a game with stakes this high, empathy is the enemy.

“Is it gone? Did you get rid of it?” Angie’s gaze followed the claw marks on the ceiling.

Sweat dripped down my face, pooled in my palm with a white sticky residue. It smelt like hair product. I felt my spikes to find they’d drooped down into bangs.

“Is it safe?” Angie dipped her foot on the floor.

Grabbing her wrist, I checked her forearms for black tracks, ink bubbles riding the ventricles.

“Say ah.”

She did as instructed. Her tongue was solid again. Her teeth had returned to normal. Her gums showed signs of gingivitis, but that’s not my area of expertise.

Prying her eye open, I checked her iris for signs of dilution, but it was something in her pupil that demanded my attention. Seeing my reflection, I spotted a row of fingers on my forehead, bat claws digging into the skin.

“He’s still here.”

Spinning on my heel, I scanned the room for reflective surfaces. Zed had to have gotten those shards from somewhere. There were mirrors on both sides of the wardrobe, one had been shattered, while the other was still intact. Stepping into view, I got a good look at the monkey on my back.

The little bugger looked like an abstract artist’s interpretation of a demon: an emaciated monkey’s body, with a ribcage so sunken it left no room for lungs. Goldilocks’s shoulder-blades were so pronounced they cut through his skin. He had lopsided bat ears, talons for teeth, and the contours of a man’s head.

A crown of bone jut out from a wet gash in his scalp, bleeding down his face like a mask.

His tail hung between my legs with links of exposed vertebras, wagging with amusement. Goldilocks was having himself a piggyback ride. If he’d suspected a vacancy in me, he’d have slipped inside already. He was testing me.

Angie dug into her gown, watching the shadows for signs of movement. “He’s been following me since I burned down the chapel. It wasn’t until you came along that I realized he was the Devil.”

I chuckled, blowing secondhand smoke at Goldilocks’s perch on my back. “A demon calling himself the devil is like a clerk calling himself the manager. Lesser demons invoke the name to inflate their stature. This mug is just a common imp trying to live beyond its means, using the majestic plural to compensate for something.”

I felt Goldilocks’s claws dig into my skull, stopping just short of my brain. I had to drive it back into Angie if I was ever going to stand a chance.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “He’s an enforcer sitting in the boss’s chair, a tapeworm pretending to be a python, a barnacle on a whale’s back, thinking it’s the king of the ocean. It has no grand ambitions, no role in the apocalypse. It’s up here hiding, soiling its knickers at the thought of being dragged back to hell.”

That got the weight off my shoulders.

***

Angie’s eyes rolled into her skull. She arched her back, cracking it. Lightning flashed. Her shadow transformed. Spikes shot out of her lips again.

Shaking the pack of Silk Cuts, I realized I was down to the last one, the final link in a chain of smokes.

Goldilocks crawled forward, staring me down with empty eyes. “Who are you?”

Puffing on the Silk Cut between us, I let the embers flare. “I’m the one whose porridge you’re gobbling. Since Ravenscar was established, I’ve peaked in, nibbling on an obsessive compulsive here, a paranoid schizophrenic there, never taking more than I needed, never announcing my presence. Then you came along and shined a big bright light on my operation. Now my buffet is at an end. Soon they’ll have priests on retainer, buckets of holy water in every doorway, and crucifixes as far as the eye can see.”

Goldilocks’s tongue shift from cheek to cheek, then from eye socket to eye socket. “If that’s so, then we’ll step out of your way. You can have this one’s soul, our treat. We’ll stand guard as you suck it dry.”

Goldilocks raised a finger, “But if you can’t, if you’re not the demon your swagger says you are, then we reserve the right to pick your meat puppet clean.”

I nodded, “Deal.”

Flicking her wrist, Goldilocks slammed the door behind me. When I turned back from the sound, I found Angie scurrying away.

Goldilocks had called my bluff.

4. Looking Back At

Tears streaked down Angie’s cheeks. “Just make it quick. The things it shows me… The things it wants me to do…to people I care about… I can’t go back.”

A breeze passed through Angie’s hair. The strands hung in the air. This time Goldilocks wanted me to know exactly where he was standing.

I could’ve grabbed a shard of mirror, sliced Angie’s throat, and hoped that Goldilocks would sod off out of it, but that would be a draw and I was looking for a win. That’s when I remembered the prescription in my pocket.

Sighing, I put my hand on Angie’s shoulder. “The only way to spare you from his torment is to transfer ownership. His is the realm of venial sins and mine is the realm of mortal ones.”

I pointed to her, “Mala Prohibata,” then to myself “Mala in Se. He deals in sins that are forbidden by man, like playing with matches. I deal in sins that are forbidden by the divine.”

Cupping my hands around Angie’s, I left her with the bottle of OxyContin.

“He will fragment your personality from your memory, turn one aspect against the other, until your soul is a snake eating its own tail. You will devoir yourself. He’s a petty demon. He doesn’t collect souls, he collects tragic outcomes. You’re just another notch on his belt.”

I pointed to the pills. “Come with me and I will hurt you. I will devastate you beyond your comprehension, but I will let you retain a semblance of your identity. This I promise you.”

Angie struggled with the childproof lid. “Who are you?”

My smile flattened. “The true lords of hell do not go by names. We go by numbers, and I my dear, am the first of the fallen.”

If I couldn’t sell the lie to Goldilocks, I’d have to sell it to his target audience.

Angie muttered a prayer.

I shook my head. “With everything you’ve done? No. God’s turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. Your damnation is a foregone conclusion, but you still have a choice in which hell you’re going. Go with Goldilocks, and he’ll pass you around the prison. Go with me, and you’ll be mine alone.”

I practically put the capsules in her mouth myself.

She swallowed them down, and the staring contest began. While Angie searched my eyes for traces of humanity, I searched her hairline for signs of movement. Angie was Goldilocks’s link to the land of the living. Would he go down with the ship or wait for another to come along?

As Angie’s eyelids shut, her hair went limp. I felt Goldilocks’s demon grip on my shoulders. All he had to do was slip into my scalp, possess my body, and he would’ve won, two souls for the price of one. Instead, he leapfrogged over me, looking for a place to hide until the next sad sap wandered in.

The wardrobe creaked.

Walking backward, I cracked my knuckles. Turning to face the mirror, I saw Goldilocks in the reflection, gnashing his teeth, his forehead perpetually bleeding. We stared at each other head on. He won that contest. I couldn’t help but wink.

“Here’s to seven more years of this.” I drove my fist into the mirror. It shattered, trapping the little bastard there.

Leaping onto the bed, I felt Angie’s neck for a pulse. It was fading, worse still she was barely breathing. There were only a few capsules left in the bottle, but I’d underestimated their effect. Gambling with Angie’s life, I delivered her soul to the genuine first of the fallen, tossing her out of the frying pan and into the volcano.

Scooping Angie up, I carried her across Zed’s invisible fence. Panicking, I ran past my arsenal of enchantments. I had one last option.

***

Kicking the door open, I announced our presence.

The electroshock chair was already occupied. The patient seized up in the throes of his session.

A nurse shot up from behind him. “We’re in the middle of a procedure!”

Laying Angie’s lifeless body on the floor, I said, “So am I.”

Plucking the electrodes from the patient’s head, I made a makeshift defibrillator. Cranking the dials up past I eleven, I yelled, “Clear!”

***

When Angie came to, she spent the first few minutes staring daggers at me. Even after they fit her with an I.V. full of Buprenorphine, she kept her gaze fixed.

“So, are we in hell?” She asked.

I gave her a so-so gesture. “Not exactly.”

She exhaled, filling the air with tension.

“You told me to kill myself, to commit a mortal sin. You persuaded me to play an active part in my own damnation. You told me you were the first of the fallen.”

Making my way to the door, I shrugged. “Listen love, I say a lot of things.”

5. Smiles

For more on the adventures of John Constantine check out my review of the pilot episode for the Constantine TV Show.

For more of my stories on demons and possession check out:

Eviction Notice – The tale of landlord tasked with tossing out a tenant possessed by a demon.

The Great American Tell Off Speech – The story of the hiring manager from hell interviewing a genuine demon.

Terms and Conditions – The story of an artist who tries to steal his inspiration back from the devil.

For my thoughts on the role of exorcisms in modern fiction, check out: Horror Clichés in need of an Exorcism.

Caught Cheating on My Novel

1. My Novel has caught Me

Jill fidgeted beneath the booth, struggling to find a comfortable spot on the cushion. Feeling her movements, I dared not ask what was wrong. She’d been straying from eye contact all night, afraid I’d see something I didn’t like.

She set her phone on the table, like a paramedic waiting to be called away at a moment’s notice. When it lit up on its own, she read the screen out of the corner of her eye, failing to hide her smirk.

This was the first time I’d seen her long locks up in a big bun. The frizzy strands stood spiked up in the back. In this light, with the dust particles falling slowly, her hair looked like a crown.

“What is it?” She caught me staring.

I motioned toward the bun. “I like what you’ve done with the topmost region of your head.”

She rolled her eyes until they landed back on her phone. “Aren’t you supposed to be a writer or something?”

I bit my thumb. “Sorry, I meant to say, the upper hemisphere of your face has many fine attributes this evening.”

She laughed, easing my tension until she picked up the phone and started typing. Peaking over the top of my menu, I watched her eyes glaze at something on the screen.

I cleared my throat. “What’s a good wine pairing for Mexican food?”

Jill shrugged, this was her area of expertise, but she couldn’t care less.

When the waiter came, I ordered the chicken enchiladas with a glass of Rioja.

“You’ll want something stronger.” Jill cut in. Offering the waiter an empty smile, she ordered, “Two Tequila Sunrises, heavy on the tequila.”

I fumbled through the drink menu. “So that’s a better pairing?”

Jill shook her head. “No, but you’ll want it.”

She waited until our food arrived to spoil my appetite.

Plucking the umbrella from her drink, and casting the straw aside, Jill downed half of her cocktail in a single gulp. Gasping, she gripped the side of the table. “The reason I called you out tonight is that I wanted to do this in person.”

I froze, an archeologist standing in the middle of a rickety old bridge, watching the ropes unravel.

Seeing my panic, Jill chuckled. “No, it’s nothing like that.”

It was exactly like that.

Jill searched for her words on the happy hour menu. “You’re such a prolific writer. I envy your artistic temperament, I really do. So many people are trying to get published, but you’re one of the few who’s going to make it. I honestly believe that.”

She swallowed. “It’s just that your life is going in a different direction. Your work requires you to lead a solitary existence, while mine keeps me social.”

Jill rubbed her hands together. “We’ve always been a few degrees off. When I’m getting warmed up to go out, your process has drained the life out of you. When I just want acknowledgment, you give advice. When I ask for advice, you play Captain Hindsight.”

I stayed frozen, fearing a nod would be an admission of guilt. Glancing away, I noticed my fork wobbling across the plate.

Jill lay her hands flat, a diplomat reaching across the table. “I think I’m speaking for both of us when I say, neither of us are very happy with this relationship.”

Ripples spread from the center of my Tequila Sunrise. The cubes in my ice water bobbed up and down.

Jill sighed. “I knew this would happen. Now you can’t even look at me.”

A droplet shot out from the center of my cocktail.

“No, it’s just that my drink is going all Jurassic Park on me.”

Feeling vibrations through my shoes, I looked over my shoulder.

A giant hardcover book barreled across the parking lot. Its angry eyebrows cut through the title. There was teeth in place of the author’s name. Its eyes glared with the smooth reflective texture of raised print. It charged toward the restaurant on tiny yellow laceless shoes, hopping from one leg to the other. I didn’t recognize the book until its cover shown red beneath the streetlight.

Crouching into the booth, I turtled up inside my suit coat. The window behind us creaked, the hardcover was leaning on it, rubbing its four fingered gloves against the glass.

Jill squint at me, “Do you know that thing?”

I couldn’t help but peak up. To find the first edition focusing its big bulging eyes on me, its breath fogging up the glass. Howling, it burst the parking lot lights, set car alarms off, and shook our silverware off the table.

The book stomped toward the entrance. Punching the handicap button, she entered sideways. When a greeter stepped into her path, the book knocked her into a bowl of peppermints. When a bus boy came to the greeter’s aid, the book grabbed him by the vest and flung him over the bar. The entire wine menu came crashing down on him.

I ducked under the table, cursing Jill. “Why did you have to look at it? You could’ve just kept texting, but you had to draw its attention. Whatever is about to happen is all your fault.”

Jill drove her stiletto into my toe. I screamed.

The hardcover spotted me falling into the aisle. A string of drool seeped through her teeth, spilling over the words: A NOVEL. Drinks toppled with its every step. Ice crunched beneath its tiny yellow shoes. Entrees landed face first on the floor.

A wet clump of something warm plopped into my hair. Cheese streaked down my forehead, followed by a dollop of sour cream. My enchiladas landed in my lap, searing my thighs. I tried to wipe them off, but it was impossible to see in the shadow of the hardcover. The great book huffed, covering half my face in spittle.

2. I'm in trouble now

I turned to find the hardcover pointing at Jill. When the book’s mouth opened and closed, my name flickered across her face.

“Who the hell is this?” The hardcover’s voice boomed.

Jill crossed her arms. “This was just leaving.”

The hardcover lift me up my collar. I had to cock my head to avoid getting scalped by the ceiling fan.

The book’s eyebrows crossed into an angry V. “You kept putting me off and putting me off. There was always something, wasn’t there? You had a stack of dishes weighing down your countertop. You were buried under a pile of laundry. You had to get up early for an interview. You kept telling me how important I was to you, but it took weeks before you did anything with me. Now here I find you wining and dining some bipedal bimbo.”

“First of all,” Jill placed the toothpick umbrella in her palms, “this isn’t wine it’s a cocktail,” she spun the umbrella, “and second of all, I’m not dining tonight,” she pointed to the empty table, “and third, wait, what was the third thing you said?”

The hardcover grit her teeth, towering over Jill, the girl that dare defy her.

“You’re nothing special, missy, just the latest in a long line of distractions.”

The hardcover flung me into the booth. The salt and pepper shakers spilled into my hair. Jill spun around, making sure her phone was alright.

The hardcover positioned itself to block me in. “Remember that mystery minx, that crime caper streetwalker, that noir whore you tried to run away with? What about that Sci-Fi-siren, that steampunk-strumpet, that little retro-history-hussy? Neither of them stuck in your head as long as me. None of those horror-harlots, terror-tarts, and jaw-dropping-jezebels had a premise like mine. Remember how you kept telling me how original I was?”

Jill’s phone vibrated. Looking at the caller ID, she grunt, letting it go to voicemail.

The hardcover bit its lip. “I’m not stupid. Of course I knew what you were doing. I just kept telling myself, ‘He’s just experimenting with those tragedy-trollops and fantasy-floozies, so that when he comes back, he’ll share what he’s learned with me.’”

The hardcover placed a tiny glove between its massive eyes, a gesture that looked faintly like she was rubbing her forehead.

“I kept my head down, trying to ignore all the short-skirted-short-stories you’ve been chasing, all the fan-fiction-vixens you’ve been posting, and all those Lovecraftian-Lolitas you’ve been publishing.”

Jill cocked her head. “Jesus, that’s the most alliteration I’ve ever heard come out of anyone.”

“I’ve been meaning to edit that.” I whispered out of the side of my mouth.

Jill’s phone vibrated again. Ignoring it, she covered her mouth, directing her speech at me.

“She’s list heavy too. All her examples come in threes. She sounds unnatural.”

I nodded, “I went a little crazy with the thesaurus when I started her.”

Jill picked up the phone. She muttered. “Hey… No, we’re still in the middle of it… We got interrupted… Yeah, no I’m fine… That’s not necessary… Really, I’ve got the situation under control… No… Oh, God damn it.”

The hardcover snorted back its tears. “Who is she talking too?”

Sitting up in the booth, I saw myself in the book’s big wounded eyes.

That’s a good question.” I said, shaking the salt from my hair.

Jill buried her phone in her purse. “That? That was no one. Just um…”

Before she could come up with an excuse the floor shook again. Reaching for my cocktail, the ceiling fan came crashing down onto the table. I rescued my drink in time. Guzzling it up, I found the ‘sunrise’ portions eclipsed by the tequila.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw a giant laptop computer pacing the bar. Its eyes took up the majority of its screen. Its teeth made up the center of its keyboard. Cartoon arms had sprouted out of its monitor. A pair of little legs supported its base. It waddled toward us, knocking over carts as it came.

I pointed my thumb over my shoulder. “Who the hell is that?”

Jill ducked into the booth. “I never wanted you to find out like this, but the entire time we’ve been together, there’s been a blog in the picture.”

Slamming my glass, I said. “I knew it.”

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

The following is a work of satire. I’m leading with this disclaimer, because many of these examples of Facebook’s attempts at mind control sound a little too believable.

Facebook's emotional experiments give user mixed messages
Facebook’s emotional experiments give user mixed messages

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

This week, Phase 1 of Facebook’s emotional manipulation experiments came to light. Having altered their Data user policy to include “research,” Facebook performed a study to test its influence on users’ psychology.

Positioning positive posts in the first test group’s feeds, the social network manipulated users to make merry messages of their own. Satiating some in sullen cynicism, they found these users were prone to mope and moan. Inspirational influencers led to delighted updaters, while pensive peers led to cocky contributors.

In his article Digital Market Manipulation, Ryan Calo believes companies “will increasingly be able to trigger irrationality or vulnerability in consumers.”

Like the copywriter in the Film Roger Dodger says, “You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad… you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void.”

There’s speculation Facebook implemented these studies to appease its shareholders. These suspicions would make sense, had evidence of Facebook’s second study not surfaced. It turns out these early experiments were the tip of the iceberg.

Phase 2 Experiments:

The Relationship Status Randomizer

Toying with eagle eyed ex lovers and potential stalkers, Facebook implemented the relationship status randomizer, listing married users as single, turning their private phone numbers to public, then posting “Feeling lonely” as their status on the hour every hour.

The Bogus Baby Broadcaster

Since baby announcements get the most engagement, Facebook posted pregnancy news on behalf of couples who weren’t expecting, pulling random ultrasounds from Google image search. The Bogus Baby Broadcaster asked family friends to vote on children’s names. The most popular choices were: Link McFly Skywalker, for boys, and Buffy Ripley Croft, for girls.

Open House Mode

Taking advantage of their Oculus Rift acquisition, Facebook started mapping real spaces for Virtual Reality. Rift owners have reported early access to a feature called Open House Mode. Stitching architecture together from users’ pictures, Open House Mode allowed beta testers to go on virtual tours of their friends’ homes. Rendering intimate living spaces, complete with exteriors from Google Street View, Open House Mode points out structural vulnerabilities like flimsy locks and windows that can be pushed open. When pressed for comment, Facebook’s lawyers said this feature was for users who wanted to throw surprise parties for one another.

Facebook's new mind control features are its best ever
Facebook’s new mind control features are its best ever

The Celebrity Death Generator

Attempting to stir up grief, Facebook filled users feeds with links that falsely reported celebrity deaths. A candlelit vigil, for actor Steve Buscemi, caused a twenty block traffic jam in downtown Atlantic City. The show runners for Boardwalk Empire had already hired Digital Domain to create a CGI stand-in, by the time the real Buscemi appeared on set, hungover, but still breathing.

Bladder Triggers

Promoting posts containing the words “hand soap, linen towels,” and “quilted tissue,” Facebook found an uptick in geotags to ‘home thrones.’ Once users were in their bathrooms, Facebook blasted them with footage of kayakers going over waterfalls, three story fountains, and animated gifs of lemonade flowing from bottles. This drew criticism from the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, fearing the effects a mass flushing incident will have on the nation’s sewer systems.

Samurai Shaming

Manufacturing outrage, Facebook posted updates as ESPN, tricking users into believing the Washington Redskins were changing their names to the Washington Yellowskins, replacing their native American logo with that of a crude cartoonish Samurai. Soon after, the hashtag #YesAllShoguns started trending.

Penicillin Petition

A petition to ban penicillin emerged, after Facebook made an article linking the antibiotic to childhood obesity trend. Medical authorities flooded the net to refute the claim, taking over the conversation in a matter of hours, but not soon enough to prevent media personality Jenny Mccarthy from endorsing the original findings. In the aftermath of the incident, Orange County has reported an outbreak of typhoid fever.

The Title Lengthening System

Some users awoke to find the phrase, “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” tacked onto every link in their newsfeed, others saw, “… is the worst kind of discrimination.” Some reported seeing each link wrapped in the phrase “What… did is genius.” Everyone exposed to this title lengthening system reported feeling disturbed by the trend, as if they were the only ones noticing it happening.

Phantom Zuckerbergs

Businesses, sports teams, and families reported finding phantom images of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, in their photos. In each image, Zuckerberg appears to be interacting with people, bringing his hands in for a team building seminar, hitting a beer bong at a keger, even wrapping his arms around someone else’s grandmother. Those who noticed the phantom CEO, said he appeared immediately after they uploaded their pictures, as if he’d been there all along. One group experimented with the feature, pointing to a camp fire in mock horror, posting the photo, they found Zuckerberg emerging from the fire.

Facebook’s Milgram Experiment

Members of the psychoanalytic community were horrified when the social network conducted it’s own interpretation of the infamous Milgram Experiment.

Testing blind obedience, the Milgram Experiment urged subjects’ to commit actions at the expense of their conscience. Subjects took on the role of a teacher administrating electric shocks to a learner, an actor who was in no real danger. Every time the learner failed to answer a question, a man in a lab coat would instruct the teacher to hit them with shock treatment. Ignoring the actor’s cries, this authority figure would tell the teacher to up the voltage. The goal was to see how many of the subjects would protest, halting the experiment before the lethal jolt was given.

Facebook introduced a virtual version of this experiment. Believing they were administering electric shocks to prison inmates, users became executioners by way of an application. The app gave users a video stream of both a researcher, commanding them to move forward, and a prisoner writhing in agony.

Stanley Milgram found that 65 percent of his participants administered the lethal dose. Facebook, on the other hand, had a 100 percent success rate. In fact, the only user to report distress, was a man in Texas, claiming to be “bummed out” when the app disappeared from the service.

Conclusion

As social networks become more prevalent in our virtual lives their effects will be felt in the real world. If the cost of connecting means surrendering control of our bowels, most of us will pay it. If the price of admission is submitting to a full body scan, most of us will jump right in. We’ll accept, that if Facebook wants us to be happy, we’ll be happy, and if we’re sad, it’s because Facebook willed us to be. The social network works in mysterious ways.

We’re just guinea pigs, hitting ‘Like’ to get more food pellets, wandering through this maze of messages, looking for meaning. The all seeing eye of Zuckerberg watches us share pictures of our plates on first dates, engage in political debates, and when we think our cameras are off, he watches us masturbate.

Ours is not to question his reasoning, but to trust in his plan. We must open our minds and accept his influence.

Is Facebook toying with your emotions
Is Facebook toying with your emotions?

Check out my April Fool’s post Facebook Buys DrewChial.com and my article on how The Facebook Bait and Switch is already effecting authors.

Sad Superman (Updated)

I have a cutout Batman, then I have a cutout Superman. What's the first thing I do? Put them in this situation. I guess I'm a romantic.
I have a cutout Batman, then I have a cutout Superman. What’s the first thing I do? Put them in this situation. I guess I’m a romantic.

When director Zack Snyder released a photo of Ben Affleck, looking somber in the new Bat suit, Photoshop savvy netizens inserted him into sorrowful scenarios, and the Sad Batman meme was born.

When the studio released a photo of Superman from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice they put rain droplets in the foreground, preventing enterprising satirists from developing yet another meme. They underestimated the power of Photoshop. May I present Sad Superman: cut out, with the droplets removed, and polished to perfection. I even threw in a colored version Sad Batman, with feet and a cape I’d added on.

Copy the PNG files and send these characters out on your own adventures.

To see more of the crazy things I’ve done with Sad Batman, take a look at my article on the perils of Living with Batman Syndrome, and don’t forget to check out my Design Gallery to see other comic book and movie parodies.

It's hard for Kanye to be sad when Superman's giving him a lift to the studio.
It’s hard for Kanye to be sad when Superman’s giving him a lift to the studio.
Now Batman has nothing to be sad about.
Now Batman has nothing to be sad about.
If a ride on Superman’s back doesn’t cheer Keanu Reeves up, nothing will.
If a ride on Superman’s back doesn’t cheer Keanu Reeves up, nothing will.

These are the original photos:

Ben-Affleck-as-Batman1 qsJ0Vie

And these are my cut outs:

Since the original photo cuts Batman off at the knees, I grafted on a pair of legs from an action figure. Same with the cape.
Since the original photo cuts Batman off at the knees, I grafted on a pair of legs from an action figure. Same with the cape.
In addition to clearing out the droplets, I used an image from Man of Steel to complete the cape. I also made him brighter and enhanced the color so he could fit into more daytime scenarios.
In addition to clearing out the droplets, I used an image from Man of Steel to complete the cape. I also made him brighter and enhanced the color so he could fit into more daytime scenarios.

Have fun.

Punxsutawney Penitentiary (Audio Short)

Ever have that dream where you’re on death row and the only thing that saved you is when your subconscious lost the plot? This dream journal entry is all about the life saving awkward transitions you only find in dreams. Listen for the tone to shift, the title will make a lot more sense.

Living with Batman Syndrome

Batman, the ride
Batman, the ride

You or someone you know might be suffering from a debilitating condition, one casting darkness over your outlook, attitude, and wardrobe. If left untreated, it can manifest through violence, erratic behavior, and a very specific dance. It can be triggered by life events: the loss of a job, a relationship, or the death of one’s parents. Those afflicted cannot will themselves out, after all, it’s their “will to act” that got them into it.

Symptoms include a loss of interest in socializing, prolonged feelings of guilt, and a fear of flying rodents. Those with the condition may have trouble sleeping, unless suspended upside down. They may feel persistent pain in their overworked glamour muscles, resulting in a puffing of the chest and a broadening of the shoulders. They may experience an overconfidence in their martial arts ability, followed by a compulsion to get into situations to demonstrate it. This is known as ‘restless fist syndrome.’

In worst case scenarios, those with the condition have a death wish involving a spiked wall, a vat of chemicals, or an automated freeze ray.

I’m of course referring to Batman Syndrome.

The condition is often misdiagnosed as asthma, due to the patient slipping into ‘gravel speak’, wheezing through lines from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, often dialogue never spoken by Batman himself. Coughing through quotes like, “Not the hero the city deserves, but the hero the it needs,” they may sound as if they’ve run up several flights of stairs.

Once the condition has gotten this far, the effects may be irreversible. That’s why it’s important to recognize the symptoms early on.

Mr. Freeze gets the Dark Knight into the holiday spirit
Mr. Freeze gets the Dark Knight into the holiday spirit

Warning Signs

Early warning signs someone may be developing the condition include:

  • Tying a towel around their neck, they leave it long after their hair has dried.
  • They draw abs, and or nipples, on the outside of their clothes.
  • They paint their mirror so only their lips and chin are visible.
  • Their pants are weighed down by an assortment of nonlethal weapons, bundled nets, and shark repellent.
  • Trickling sweat, draws attention to the bodysuit peaking out from their collar.
  • Distracted, they look for grappling points on nearby buildings.
  • Looking away, you catch them trying to disappear in the middle of a conversation.
  • Beating around the bush, they ask if anyone you know has access to any ‘lightweight fabrics,’ for a friend.
  • They refer to you as, “My ward, old chum,” or “boy wonder,” despite your age or gender.
  • They suffer anxiety during public functions, checking windows for sniper positions. They look over every security guard at museum openings. They’re suspicious of large cakes at charity functions.
  • There’s a search for “nearest cave system” in their GPS application
  • Flipping through their wallet, you find they’ve drawn a cowl with pointy ears on George Washington.
  • At the department store, they ask, “Do you have any gloves like this that go up to the forearm, and also do you have any shark toys, preferably with large blue fins?”
  • At the auto dealer, they ask, “Does it come in black? Also, can the fender be retrofitted to conceal a motorcycle?”
Catwoman steals herself a Batman
Catwoman steals herself a Batman

Types of Batman Syndrome

All Batman Syndrome types are not the same. The symptoms of a high-functioning person with the condition may manifest as an occasional reference, while someone with a severe case, might break their leg jumping from building to building.

Batman Beginners

These people are fans of the films, the Arkham Asylum video games, and one of the cartoon interpretations.

They’re unaware there was a Robin after Dick Grayson, let alone an alternate universe where the Dark Knight was played by Thomas Wayne. They couldn’t tell you any one of Harley Quinn’s three separate origins.

They know not of Dark Claw, the amalgamation of Bruce Wayne and Wolverine, of Batman’s face off with the Predator, or of Superman’s stint as Gotham’s protector.

Their symptoms are manageable, allowing them to lead normal lives, hold jobs, and kiss girls.

Atypical Detectives

Keeping their cowls in the closet, these people hide comic books beneath their mattresses. Their action figures are tucked away in the attic. They have most of their symptoms in check.

They slip up every so often, dropping out of context quotes into casual conversation. They tell the manager at Chuck E. Cheese they’re buying the location and setting some new rules about the ball pit area. When someone swears to God, they instinctively shout, “Swear to me!” They tell people not to thank them for small gestures, like opening doors.

An Atypical Detective can go years before they’re ever diagnosed, suffering in silence.

Chronic Caped Crusaders

Referring to their parent’s basement as the ‘Batcave,’ these people wear blue and grey pajamas into their thirties. Drawing Catwoman masks on centerfolds, they make-out with life-sized cutouts of Anne Hathaway, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Eartha Kitt.

Shaving the bat-insignia into their chest hair, with Prince’s Batdance blaring in the background, they practice their fight regiment in Bat-symbol underpants.

Preaching the gospel of Gotham, they are evangelists of the Knight’s quest, arguing the series cannon in public. They have a screenplay waiting for the Nolan brothers to green-light.

Beware of the Batdog
Beware of the Batdog

Major Dark Knightification

This is someone who wears dark eyeliner, anticipating a need to pull down their mask at a moment’s notice. They hoard a colony of bats in their apartment. They drop smoke pellets to conceal bodily emissions.

Loosing their grip on reality, they see phantom Bat-signals during the daytime. Their world has gone ‘full-Gotham.’ They see gargoyles where others see smokestacks. They see art deco statues where others see street signs. They see the Wayne Tower on every skyline.

Someone suffering from full Dark Knightification will get into fisticuffs with birthday clowns, knock umbrellas out of the hands of affluent gentlemen, and stop their car at cornfields to tear scarecrows off their stands.

Those who are this far gone, enjoy normality only one night a year, on Halloween.

Treatments

Although there are several effective treatments for Batman syndrome, or Dark Knightis, there is no known cure. Flareups will occur during high crime periods, prolonged darkness, and the summer movie season.

If you’re concerned someone you know suffers from Batman Syndrome, offer support and understanding, without enabling their behavior. If they pressure you to make them a bat suit, make sure to use rainbow fabric. If they get confrontational, just say, “That’s what he wore, in 1957, so that’s what I’m sewing.”

Never ignore comments about mail-order masks, vigilante justice, or comic book conventions. These are cries for help. Your loved one has a Batman on their back. You can be their Joker with a crowbar ready and willing to pry him off.

For the millions afflicted with the condition, there is hope. Director Joel Schumacher, offers an effective treatment plan: weekly viewings of his film Batman and Robin will lesson a person’s appreciation for the character. The cartoon Beware the Batman is also available. This should tide those with Batman Syndrome over while Director Zack Snyder labors to find a cure.

1957's Rainbow Batman finally gets a real life rendition.
1957’s Rainbow Batman finally gets a real life rendition.

The Esoteric Order of Internet Service Providers

1. The Look

Net neutrality is the principle that all internet data should be treated equally, that no service provider should sell preferential treatment to the highest bidder, and that no company can discriminate what sites their users see. It prevents wealthier sites like BuzzFeed from being the fastest things on the net. It prevents Comcast from charging WordPress more to reach their readers at a decent speed. It prevents streaming services, like NetFlix, from passing these new expenses to their customers. It evens the playing field for established corporate entities and promising young entrepreneurs.

Over the course of two elections, this administration ran on the platform of preserving net neutrality. So, how could the President’s appointment for the chairman of the FCC propose its end?

If you’re like me, you suspect secret societies and Satanic rituals are somehow involved. The following is a dramatic reenactment of how I think the whole thing went down.

The Esoteric Order of Internet Service Providers

From the stairs, the underground lair looked like a wolf’s den. The pack was positioned with their fur to the ceiling. They knelt in a circular formation around the podium. With pelts quivering in the midst, they looked like beasts digging, but it was fingers, not claws that held their sacred rings.

Stepping onto the floor, the Alpha broke the fog, dragging a fur robe behind him. The silver mange of his wolfskin hood blended into his hair. Its frozen ears were raised in a permanent state of alarm. Its furrowed brow framed the rubies in its eyes. With its snout jutting out, its canines cast shadows down the Alpha’s face.

The Alpha’s flesh glistened, a pallid mask of skincare products. A pair of black, sunken eyes, hid behind his spectacles. When he looked to his followers, they skittered back with their tales between their legs.

The plumage from a flock of cardinals lined his robe, clasped together with fragments of antlers. Peacock feathers shot out from his shoulders, casting shadows on his snakeskin sleeves. His was a technicolor coat of death and nightmares. Standing over his followers, he was an apex predator.

The Alpha approached the podium, to find a wolf’s paw. A remote stuck out from the amputated limb. Looking to a projector on the ceiling, his gaze followed the beam to a towering curtain. Pinching the paw until he felt a click, he watched a blood red moon flash onto the screen.

“Arise my brothers.” The Alpha’s voice boomed with seasoned authority, a refined tongue that had no qualms with giving orders.

The pack did as instructed.

2. Bound Hands

The Alpha pinched the paw. Spinning, the moon shrunk into the dot of a question mark. Continue reading The Esoteric Order of Internet Service Providers